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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Folk Devils

But in the ten years following Doom's release, homicide arrest rates fell by 77 percent among juveniles. School shootings remain extremely rare; even during the 1990s, when fears of school violence were high, students had less than a 7 in 10 million chance of being killed at school. During that time, video games became a major part of many young people's lives, few of whom will ever become violent, let alone kill. So why is the video game explanation so popular?

In 2000 the FBI issued a report on school rampage shootings, finding that their rarity prohibits the construction of a useful profile of a "typical" shooter. In the absence of a simple explanation, the public symbolically linked these rare and complex events to the shooters' alleged interest in video games, finding in them a catchall explanation for what seemed unexplainable-the white, middle-class school shooter. However, the concern about video games is out of proportion to their actual threat.

Politicians and other moral crusaders frequently create "folk devils," individuals or groups defined as evil and immoral. Folk devils allow us to channel our blame and fear, offering a clear course of action to remedy what many believe to be a growing problem. Video games, those who play them, and those who create them have become contemporary folk devils because they seem to pose a threat to children.

Such games have come to represent a variety of social anxieties: about youth violence, new computer technology, and the apparent decline in the ability of adults to control what young people do and know. Panics about youth and popular culture have emerged with the appearance of many new technologies. Over the past century, politicians have complained that cars, radio, movies, rock music, and even comic books caused youth immorality and crime, calling for control and sometimes censorship.
-- do video games kill? [via kotaku]

I've pounded the pulpit on this if not ad nauseum certainly ad redundum (if that's a real thing). Guys like BatJack have managed whole careers by selling folk devils to the media. We're becoming more and more of a phobic nation here in America - homophobic, xenophobic and now even technophobic. The unknown or unfamiliar is a convenient way to direct anger and fear - especially if they lack powerful lobbies or financial backing.

This post accuses gamers of doing a similar thing in reverse. It's an open letter to the Penny Arcade post about the "homeless killings". In short it says that they're irrelevant to games in general since there's only a singular quote (and not oft repeated) about a game and it never goes farther than that. (thanks to Curmudgeon Gamer for the find)

I think he's right - reading the mainstream press on this seems to make very little out of the game reference and never seem to try and make a broader connection. There are no politicians or attention whores trying to make them either. Gamers seem to make the case ... and then of course deny that it's plausible.

I get how it happens though. Gaming has been demonized so often that it is easy to see shadows as bogeymen. The folk devil of the folk devil, so to speak. When 60 Minutes takes a guy like Thompson and allows him to talk about cranial menus without so much of a blink ... and yet gamers aren't given an equal platform ... a persecution complex is very likely to rise. Because it is like persecution. It's not paranoia if they are actually out to get you.

Still, it's important to keep your wits about. It will only fan the flames when the guys who started the fire are having a break. We have to give not just the figureheads but the arguments as little credibility and attention as possible while still mounting a defense.

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